Photo: Swarm of insects in flight over grassland, Madagascar

Insects swarm over the Madagascar savanna. Grasslands in different regions have different names: Africa has savannas; Asia has steppes; South America has pampas; and North America has prairies.

Photograph by Maria Stenzel

A quarter of Earth was once covered by grasslands, but much of these have now been turned into farms. This has resulted in a widespread loss of wildlife habitat.

Grassland soil is rich, and almost anything can be grown there. But poor agricultural practices can ruin soil and turn grassland into lifeless, barren spaces. If crops are not rotated properly, nutrients in the soil are stripped out, and nothing can be grown for several years. Compared to grassland, cropland provides few or no resources for breeding birds. Grazing livestock destroy grassland as well. Only 5 percent of the original prairie in the United States remains.

Threats

  • Continued global warming could turn current marginal grasslands into deserts as rainfall patterns change.
  • Land once incompatible with row-crop agriculture, but which provided a living to ranching families and habitat for prairie wildlife, is being converted to row crops.
  • Development of urban areas is increasingly cutting into grassland habitat.
  • Drought-hardy, cold-resistant, and herbicide-tolerant varieties of soybeans, wheat, and corn allow crops to expand into native grassland.
  • Where only one crop is grown, pests and disease can spread easily, creating the need for potentially toxic pesticides.

Solutions

  • Continue education efforts on how to protect the soil and prevent soil erosion.
  • Protect and restore wetlands, which are an important part of grassland ecology.
  • Rotate agricultural crops to prevent the sapping of nutrients.
  • Plant trees as windbreaks.
  • Conduct dry season burning to obtain fresh growth and to restore calcium to the soil that builds up in the dry grasses.

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